Antibiotics: The more you use them, the more you abuse them

Prescription Drugs


By pH health care professionals

Antibiotics are generally understood by the average person as the drugs used to cure infections. And most people fully expect their doctors to prescribe antibiotics for a bad cough, cold, sore throat, flu or ear infection. 

But in a study conducted by Utah University researchers, it was found that “in more than 25 percent of cases, such prescriptions are useless because the infection stems from a virus, which cannot be treated with antibiotics.” Treating a viral infection with antibiotics means that you’re taking medicine that may have no chance of helping you, and a very real chance of hurting you. So why would doctors prescribe an antibiotic that does not help?

Uncertainty about the diagnosis

recent survey, conducted by Medscape, sheds considerable light on the question. More than 1,100 patients and nearly 800 health care providers (including physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants) responded to the survey. The providers generally confirmed that they regularly prescribe antibiotics when they are not absolutely certain that antibiotics are necessary. This was true across all specialties surveyed.

When it’s not clear whether the issue stems from a virus or bacteria, the doctor knows that if it is bacterial, antibiotics will do the trick, and that if the bacterial infection is left untreated, the patient may be harmed. It’s kind of a “rather be safe than sorry” approach. However, overusing antibiotics can cause some problems.

What are some downsides of the overuse of antibiotics?

The study emphasized that antibiotic overuse among children and adults is a serious problem and a threat to everyone's health. “The biggest problem with using antibiotics when they’re not needed is the development of antibiotic resistance, which is when bacteria survive by outsmarting the antibiotic,” the study authors said. “Common infections become difficult to treat, and when you really need an antibiotic, it may not work.”

Side effects can also emerge as the antibiotics kill off any harmful bacteria along with the good. That’s right -- your body needs a wide variety of beneficial bacteria for a healthy immune system and proper digestive health!

The types of illnesses where doctors seem to choose stronger antibiotics include respiratory problems, skin infections and urinary tract infections, which in many cases would be better treated by less-strong antibiotics that are less likely to cause resistance.

So which illnesses require an antibiotic and which don’t?

The first thing to realize is just because an illness has a fancy-sounding name does not mean that it is bacterial and requires antibiotics. According to the CDC, many cases of sinusitis (sinus inflammation or congestion), pharyngitis (sore throat), nasopharyngitis (the common cold), bronchitis (airway infection), and otitis media with effusion (middle ear fluid) are caused by viruses, not bacteria, and therefore are unaffected by antibiotics.

It is also important to understand that just because you received an antibiotic for a particular set of symptoms in the past does not mean that you need an antibiotic prescription for the same symptoms now.

Alexander Fleming (the discoverer of penicillin) warned the public that doctors were abusing penicillin by using it in patients who did not need it. Fleming knew that antibiotics were different from all other types of drugs. With antibiotics, the more you use them, the more you abuse them.

So what can be done?

  • Commit to reducing unnecessary antibiotic use. A recent study reported that the concept of "public commitment" can be effective in reducing prescriptions. Providers were asked to write out and sign a statement indicating that they would prescribe antibiotics for infections according to guidelines. The signed statement was then posted in the patients' examination rooms. This act resulted in a 20 percent reduction in prescriptions.
  • Partner with your doctor. Don’t be afraid to ask questions like, “Is this a bacterial condition or a virus?” Ask questions about which antibiotic you are being prescribed, if it is necessary and the dosage, as well as any potential side effects.
  • Find the root cause. Understand that antibiotics do not treat the cause of the illness and should be used only when they are necessary. Get appropriate testing done to ensure you know what is at the core of your issues. It may be something as simple as a vitamin or mineral deficiency that is causing a host of health problems, ranging from mild to severe.
  • Strengthen your immune system. Your immune system is your body’s best defense against all kinds of illnesses. So don’t wait to get sick to start thinking about your health. Boost your immunity now so you get sick less often, can recover quickly and enjoy a healthy life. Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables to get the nutrients needed for a strong immune system. The following supplements may also help: Probiotics, black elderberry, magnesiumvitamin Cvitamin D and antioxidants.

Enjoy Your Healthy Life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.


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